Public health directors for WNY's rural counties say COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been difficult

Diana Swiga
Posted at 5:00 AM, Apr 13, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Public health directors for Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Orleans and Genesee counties say the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been particularly difficult for rural areas in Western New York.

One health director pointed to higher senior populations and broadband connectivity issues as contributing factors that have led to the difficulty with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The state requires appointments to receive the vaccine, many of which need to be made online or over the phone.

"I think we're at a disadvantage in the rural areas especially with the high senior populations, the broadband connectivity issues, with fighting. It's like the vaccine hunger games it's been referred to," said Paul Pettit, Orleans and Genesee Counties Public Health Director.

Some counties in the northern part of the state have relatively similar populations and have a higher percentage of their population vaccinated.

"Maybe there was some kind of equity distribution problem initially where those northern part counties initially got more vaccine than Western New York, but I think it's starting to pan back out where we're starting to get pretty much equal supply of vaccines," said Dr. Kevin Watkins, Cattaraugus County Public Health Director

But as of April 11, 27% of Orleans County had been vaccinated while more than 45 percent of Essex County had been vaccinated. Both counties have populations around 40,000.

"When you look at the allocations that have come to Orleans County specifically, they have not been on par with other rural counties of similar populations. We've been fighting that battle. We continually bring that up to the state, to the health department, to the chambers of the Governor's office," said Petit.

The health directors say another issue they have come across is that the vaccine appointments that are available in these rural areas are going to people from more populous areas.

"When you are geographically close enough to a more urban county with better internet access and better ability, I don't think it is a level playing field," said Christine Schuyler, Chautauqua County Public Health Director.

These public health directors say their counties need more resources to get their populations vaccinated.